Ah Eastertide! A time of rebirth! And so we are delighted to spread the word about Undercrank’s new release of the restored Beverly of Graustark (1926).
Yes, Beverly of Graustark. I’ll confess here and now that I wasn’t inflamed with waves of excitement when I caught wind of this one, not like I was about Alice Howell, Marcel Perez, Musty Suffer, and Edward Everett Horton. It’s not that I don’t love Marion Davies, having seen and enjoyed her in a half dozen films or so (including Undercrank’s previous Zander the Great). It’s more like “Beverly of Graustark? Could there be a less compelling title for a movie? How about Melvin of La Mancha?”
But it turns out that the title actually meant something to audiences back in the day. Author George Barr McCutcheon (best remembered today for Brewster’s Millions) actually wrote a whole series of Graustark books, all set in the fictional European kingdom. There had even been an earlier 1914 version of this particular tale starring Linda Arvidson (Mrs. D.W. Griffith).
The 1926 version was produced by MGM and has a scene in two-strip Technicolor. By some measures, it was Davies’ most profitable movie (it didn’t earn the most at the box office, but when you factor in the relatively small production costs, it boosts the bottom line). The plot rather ingeniously fuses together two popular and evergreen subgenres: 1) commoner must sub as the ruler of a country during a time of crisis, due to a marked resemblance to the real monarch or President; and 2) circumstances force someone to cross-dress. Off the top of my head, I can think of silent comedies starring Larry Semon and Harold Lloyd answering the first description; and films starring Eltinge, Bothwell Browne, and Vesta Tilley that answer the second. The 20s were all about androgyny! So in Beverly of Graustark, Davies plays a young lady who must fill in for her male cousin (Creighton Hale) as the newly crowned king of Graustark while cuz recovers from a skiing accident. Along the way, she must navigate court intrigues, assassination attempts, and macho drinking contests, most of this orchestrated by a villainous general (Roy D’Arcy). And, perhaps most dangerous of all…lots of near-miss homosexuality! The biggest hurdle for Beverly emotionally is that she falls for a heroic goat-herd/ prince-in-disguise played by Antonio Moreno. Some heavy sexual tension there (though, Victor/ Victoria style, he later claims he “knew it all along”). And meanwhile a would-be Mata Hari (Paulette Duval) also puts the moves on “him”, which gets us a whisker away from lesbianism. Lots of glowing cheeks in Graustark!
As always, a clean and beautiful print, and a lively, chiming original organ score by Ben Model, Grand Vizier of the New, Improved Graustark!
Want to see (and hear) for yourself? The next person who joins my Patreon campaign at the $5 level will receive a free copy of the Blu-Ray edition of the film! Do that here. And if you miss the boat on that offer, you can purchase it outright here. Official release date, tomorrow, April 12.
And for more on silent and classic cinema, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.